Rupert Murdoch and Climate Change

One of the most thoughtful commenters to this blog recently sent me an interesting–albeit disquieting–article from Mother Jones. The subject was climate change and the curious fact that the countries with the largest numbers of skeptics were all English-speaking:  U.S., England and Australia. Canada wasn’t in the bottom cluster, but it was close.

Why would the English language correlate with climate skepticism? As the author, respected science reporter Chris Mooney, notes

There is nothing about English, in and of itself, that predisposes you to climate change denial. Words and phrases like “doubt,” “natural causes,” “climate models,” and other skeptic mots are readily available in other languages. So what’s the real cause?

Mooney quotes political scientists for (pretty unpersuasive) theories linking neoliberalism with denialism, but then he suggests a simpler–and very troubling–explanation:

The English language media in three of these four countries are linked together by a single individual: Rupert Murdoch. An apparent climate skeptic or lukewarmer, Murdoch is the chairman of News Corp and 21st Century Fox. (You can watch him express his climate views here.) Some of the media outlets subsumed by the two conglomerates that he heads are responsible for quite a lot of English language climate skepticism and denial.

In the US, Fox News and the Wall Street Journal lead the way; research shows that Fox watching increases distrust of climate scientists. (You can also catch Fox News in Canada.) In Australia, a recent study found that slightly under a third of climate-related articles in 10 top Australian newspapers “did not accept” the scientific consensus on climate change, and that News Corp papers—the Australian, the Herald Sun, and the Daily Telegraph—were particular hotbeds of skepticism. “The Australian represents climate science as matter of opinion or debate rather than as a field for inquiry and investigation like all scientific fields,” noted the study.

And then there’s the UK. A 2010 academic study found that while News Corp outlets in this country from 1997 to 2007 did not produce as much strident climate skepticism as did their counterparts in the US and Australia, “the Sun newspaper offered a place for scornful skeptics on its opinion pages as did The Times and Sunday Times to a lesser extent.” (There are also other outlets in the UK, such as the Daily Mail, that feature plenty of skepticism but aren’t owned by News Corp.)

I have long been a free speech purist–and I remain convinced by John Stuart Mill’s argument that only the freest expression and most robust exchange of ideas  will yield Truth (note capital T). Climate skeptics are entitled to their say, and Faux News is entitled to spew demonstrable inaccuracies and falsehoods on this and all manner of other issues, no matter how maddening some of us find that and no matter how much damage their fabrications do to our ability to produce sound public policies.

Ideally, a few wealthy individuals would not be allowed to dominate the media (the right to free expression does not include the right to crowd out dissenting opinions), but in the age of the Internet, restrictions on the number of media outlets one corporation can control are arguably unnecessary, and unlikely in any event.

We’ll just have to hope that Mill and others were right–that people will examine the information they are being fed, consider the sources of that information, and come to rational conclusions. And perhaps that’s happening; Fox News has been losing market share for the last few years.

We can hope….


  1. I have always believed that at least part of the problem of denial is due to semantics. Everyone understood, whether they agreed or not, the term “destroying the environment”. Global warming is misleading to those who do not accept the melting of our ice caps as fact and merely look at the past winter we lived through here and now, our lack of normal Indiana summer heat are looking for actual warming trends. Watching “An Inconveneint Truth” gave me a clearer understanding. Those who refuse to accept this documentary as anything more than Al Gore’s active imagination will never look further for information from any source. Rupert and his money-backed media sources in English speaking countries has the same advantage to control information as the Tea Party, Koch brothers, NRA and their billions have controlling Congress at this time. And they work hand-in-glove to run this country; this is never more obvious than today with Boehner sueing the President and the plans to impeach him will be carried out. The term “a picture is worth 1,000 words” has been lost in all media because the only pictures we see are the GOP as they spread their false accusations and distortions to the public…with Rupert’s assistance.

  2. As far as Fox news goes…. I think the angry old white folks will just have to die off before there is any real change in many of these issues. Fox viewers will not be persuaded by factual information. But they are OLD…..

  3. People are entitled to opinions, but not to make up facts. The foundation of journalism is the discovery of fact. Clearly then the basis of of Rupert Murdoch’s empire is not journalism. I propose that the basis is brand marketing, just like the NRA and Mercedes Benz and Tommy Hilfiger and Beyonce. All of those entities create a culture in order to attract supporters, read buyers, to behave in ways that are financially lucrative to the originator. It’s business, pure and simple.

    Business has one purpose, making money, and we’ve been taught that the mission of making money is both necessary and sufficient to build a successful nation. Perhaps it is, but what’s changed that leads to dysfunction are a couple of details.

    Brand marketing, as compared to normal advertising disguises the real benefit of a product by inculcating it into a culture. Creating the opposite of what free markets are based on, fully informed consumers.

    Making more money regardless of the cost to others has been compromised by cultural changes in horizon. It has traditionally been viewed as over the long term but the financial services brand has enculturated that investors are entitled to profit over the very short time, minutes and hours, creating the day trader mentality.

    Small seeming changes but the evidence says enough to lead us from functional to dysfunctional for the nation in the world of business.

    Now we get to not throwing the baby out with the bathwater. How to get back to what works.

    First, resist culturally toxic mass media. Second , vote, buy and invest for the long term. Simple prescription. Hard to do? Impossible for many. Fortunately democracy only requires a plurality of the electorate to act as informed adults. And business can be influenced by the same numbers. And social media in the hands of the well meaning, responsible and informed of the country can be a powerful unifying tool as Sheila’s blog demonstrates daily.

    We can do this.

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